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Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, sexual violence

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month kicks off, it’s critical now to consider the role that the workplace has to play in supporting survivors of sexual violence. Women of color are distinctly impacted by sexual violence due to the biased and racist stereotypes that White supremacy culture promotes. Since those same stereotypes affect how women of color are perceived and treated at work, it’s imperative to take a strategic DEI and healing approach to ensure survivors of color can thrive in their careers. 

While sexual violence can harm people from all walks of life, women of color, and Black women in particular, are at higher risk for experiencing it in their lifetime. The trauma that survivors experience after being harmed can linger for years and affect all areas of their lives, including their careers. 

Workplaces that are built around White supremacy culture and that do not promote safety and trust further harm women of color who are survivors. Working under a system that is already not created for women of color to thrive heightens the traumatic experiences that women of color have already faced. Taking action to reverse this course and build a company culture that supports survivors can take on many forms, including:

Believing Survivors 

Since White supremacy culture teaches us to be critical and mistrusting of women of color, it would follow that they would not be believed in instances of sexual violence. The strong Black woman archetype leaves many Black girls and women perceived as less innocent, and the docile, feisty, and passive stereotypes our collective culture believes about Asian, Latina, and Native American women also leave them vulnerable to having their pain and harm ignored. 

Creating a working culture that is trusting of women of color sets the tone for them to be believed and supported should an instance of sexual violence in the workplace occur. 

Providing Confidential, Trauma and Culturally-Informed Resources

A benefits package is not complete without making wellness and mental health resources accessible and free or low-cost for employees. A successful DEI strategy would also seek out a network of practitioners and healers who can provide culturally informed support. 

By proactively forming partnerships with organizations that are actively working to end sexual violence against women of color, your organization takes a critical first step in providing resources that will help in their healing journeys. 

Preventing Sexual Harassment and Assault in the Workplace

A survivor-centered sexual harassment and assault policy places the needs of those who have been harmed first. While a company’s first instinct may be to protect its reputation and power structure, having clear guidelines and training that lead with the survivor in mind can lessen the burden of an already traumatic experience. 

Implementing regular trainings that reinforce these values across an entire organization and ensuring that said trainings are created through a DEI lens is imperative in educating on and preventing sexual violence in the workplace. 

This April and beyond, analyze whether your organization is equipped with the culturally appropriate tools and resources to support survivors of sexual violence. By remaining aware of the ways that White supremacy culture infiltrates how workplaces respond to women of color survivors, action can be taken to dismantle and heal from the systems and experiences that harm them.

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